Best Of :: Nightlife
Jay Valdez has had a hell of a year. The Phoenix DJ is now in his 40s, and he has been spinning and scratching around town for decades. But he's no hobbyist. Under the name of DJ Akshen, Valdez is a professional turntablist, and he's got the accolades to prove it. In 2015, he won the regional finals for the Red Bull Thre3style competition, essentially earning him the crown of the Southwest's best DJ. The win also propelled him into the national finals (which took place at downtown's Monarch Theatre), but he failed to advance to the global competition, where he could have competed for the title of best DJ in the world. Nevertheless, Akshen is still king of the hill around here, and there's nobody more deserving of the title.www.djakshen.com
It's easy to get caught up in the latest cocktails trends, be it a return to tiki-style drinks or garnishes inspired by what's growing in the garden. But wanting to taste what's trendy doesn't mean we can't also respect the classics. When we're craving an impeccable Old Fashioned or a perfect Negroni, we head to Crudo, where mixologist Micah Olson and his crew of talented drink makers is just as good with old-school cocktails as they are at shaking up creative concoctions. You can count on anyone behind the bar to make anything from a Vieux Carré to a French 75, and during the bar's happy hour, you can even score many of these classic drinks for just $7. Never had a Mai Tai you didn't hate? Let Crudo give it a try. We bet you'll finally understand why some cocktails stand the test of time.
Readers Choice: Durant's
As they say, everything old is new again. So whether you're talking about modern takes on classic cocktails or drinks that incorporate the latest boozy trends, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour in downtown Phoenix delivers. Brought to the historic Luhrs Building by expert barman Ross Simon, this upscale spot brings big-city mixology to the Valley with a 24-page Book o' Cocktails and geeky gadgetry, including a nano filtration system that produces bottle-quality water and CO2 wands that let bartenders carbonate any drink they want. This year, Simon led the charge on bringing frozen and blended drinks to the Valley, a trend that's already taken off in other big cities. And the second iteration of the bar's cocktail menu, which debuted this spring, includes fresh creations such as the L.I.T. Up, a take on Long Island iced tea made with "a medley of premium spirits" in addition to Averna, port, and lemon bitters. For simpler tastes, there's also the Czech Please, which features trendy Bacherovka liqueur with muddled lime and simple syrup.
Readers Choice: Bitter & Twisted
More than 230 whiskeys. That's pretty much the heads and the tails of why the Gladly is one of the best spots for whiskey drinkers in the Valley. The restaurant's list covers everything from Scotch and Irish whiskeys to All-American bourbon and other homegrown offerings — it even has a handful of Japanese selections for those who want to explore the newest kids on the international whiskey block. Of course, the whiskey cocktails also are above par — in particular, the Gladly Manhattan, one of our favorites in town. Featuring Russell's Reserve Bourbon, it gains depth from tobacco bitters and Guinness maple syrup. Smoky and sweet and garnished with a toasted orange peel, it's a perfect update to the whiskey drinker's standby drink.
As the barrel-aging of cocktails continues to become more popular, Citizen Public House maintains the tradition that it was one of the first in the Valley to adopt — and what did it do recently? Started from nearly scratch with a few new offerings, namely the Fernet-Chu Picchu, a blend of Lillet Rouge, Pêche De Vigne, and Pisco Portón — a spirit that in Peru is forbidden by law to be aged but is liberated and confined to oak barrels by the Citizen team. The result is a dark, slightly fruity and intense drink seasoned to caramel vanilla perfection.
"Snooze" might be in the name, but this Denver-based brunch spot is anything but boring. From the retro-futuristic design to the seasonal pancakes and eggs Benedicts, Snooze makes the most important meal of the day one of the easiest to enjoy. The fact that it offers a nearly full bar and menu of morning cocktails also helps, and when it comes to Bloody Marys, the restaurant pulls out all the stops. There's a classic Bloody Mary — called the Straight Up or Spicy — but also a list of more creative takes on your hangover's best friend. We like the Gazpacho, made with cucumber and pepper and garlic-infused vodka, and the Boss Hog, a seriously upgraded Bloody that features bacon-infused bourbon with Snooze's house Bloody mix.
Not only is the Clever Koi in midtown Phoenix one of the most stylish spots to enjoy happy hour — the restaurant's sleek bar and modern design create a perfect backdrop for your after-work meetup — it's also got some of the best happy hour deals on food and drink in town. With both value and quality, the restaurant's happy hour, offered daily from 3 to 6 p.m., features $6 classic cocktails, including a Manhattan, martini, French 75, a michelada, punch, and a Champagne cocktail. And with expert bartender Joshua James overseeing operations, you can guarantee your drink will be crafted with care. The food menu includes five options between five and eight bucks, with sharable snacks like the edamame corn fritters alongside meal-worthy options such as a bowl of pork ramen or a burger.
Readers Choice: Salty Señorita
You'll find the Hermosa Inn located not far from the bustle of Camelback Road, but this boutique hotel looks and feels like a scene out of a modern Western fantasy. With towering cacti and a sprawling patio, you can't help wanting to lounge by the outdoor fireplace with a stiff cocktail. And you should, because the hotel's Last Drop Bar happens to be one of the Valley's best drinking destinations. Travis Nass, who runs the bar program, was inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame this year, and his menu includes some of the most booze-forward, original cocktails in town. With unexpected ingredients used in unusual combinations, Nass' cocktails both respect for tradition and typify the tone of the Arizona scene. With a drink in hand, just settle into one of the plush patio chairs and let the spirit of the Southwest seep in.
There's no cooler place in the Valley for cocktails than Counter Intuitive, the late-night drinking hole opened by Scottsdale restaurateur Peter Kasperski earlier this year. With a rotating menu of drinks created by two of the Valley's best bartenders, Micah Olson of Crudo and Jason Asher (profiled by GQ), it should be no surprise that this spot offers some of the city's very best imbibing. Counter Intuitive debuted with a menu inspired by a New Orleans estate sale — think Sazeracs, Painkillers, and a killer version of a Pisco Sour — then moved on to a sophomore menu inspired by a mysterious trip some people believe Pablo Picasso made to Cuba shortly after the Cuban Revolution. The only downside is that the bar's open only from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights — but the limited hours also make it a true destination for post-dinner drinks.
There was a time, not too long ago, when no one outside Phoenix gave much thought to the beer brewed here. Oh, our brewers got attention with the occasional medal at a beer-judging competition, but the city wasn't a craft beer destination. All that changed in April of last year, when Arizona Wilderness — a mere six months old at the time — was named "Best New Brewery in the World" by www.ratebeer.com. An avalanche of press followed, and even a new tasting room adjacent to the brewpub couldn't hold all the thirsty pilgrims visiting the Valley to see if the spot was worthy of the title. Yet through it all — growing pains, collaborations with some of the world's most renowned brewers, shitty Yelp reviews — the bearded owners have remained unremittingly committed to the use of local ingredients. To taste a Wilderness beer is to taste Arizona, and that, too, is award-worthy.
Readers Choice: Four Peaks
We used to drink like you, dear reader: coffee in the morning, beer in the evening. That is, until we discovered SunUp's White Russian Imperial Stout. Not only is the brew absolutely space-jammed with coffee flavor — seriously, it tastes more like shot of espresso than an actual shot of espresso — but it's also a beefcake-y 9.2 percent ABV. SunUp Brewmaster Uwe Boer based the stout on a recipe that goes back to his home-brewing days in the '90s, tweaked with additions of vanilla and beans from Georgia-based roaster Coffee AM, as well as other, more secret ingredients. The beer only pops up on draft around the Valley occasionally, but each time it does, we're so amazed by its luscious coffee/mint/vanilla/chocolate flavor that we can't help drinking it all day long.
How could one possibly improve on Dos Cabezas' pink rosé? Why, by adding carbonation and putting it in a 16-ounce can, of course! We think that Sparkling Pink just might be better than the original, with a crisp effervescence and hints of green strawberry, grapefruit, and elderflower. It pairs with creamy cheeses, sweet confections, and spicy Southwestern fare, proving itself a wine of many applications. Without food, Sparkling Pink's clean and refreshing finish make it a great companion for poolside sipping, outdoor excursions, or even floating the Salt River. Best yet, its 16-ounce serving size makes it perfect for sharing.www.doscabezaswineworks.com